Gareth Bale has been Real Madrid's scapegoat for too long... his cameo against Fuenlabrada showed he can turn his side's season around

  • ?Gareth Bale returned from injury against Fuenlabrada on Tuesday night
  • The Welshman had been out since September with calf and hamstring injuries
  • He continues to be linked with a move to long-time suitors Manchester United?

Tuesday night felt like the beginning of Gareth Bale's season, after the false start in September ruined by injuries.?

The plan now is to make sure he keeps building up speed through to the end of the season and has the sort of campaign that will silence for good those who want him sold.

The criticism that he makes the team play badly because he thrives on direct football and can't play the passing game has long been discredited – he's been out for two months and Real Madrid have played very little of the wonderful football they apparently were being prevented from playing because of Bale in that time.

Gareth Bale made a cameo appearance against?Fuenlabrada on Tuesday night

Gareth Bale made a cameo appearance against?Fuenlabrada on Tuesday night

Bale started on the substitutes' bench but came on with 28 minutes left on the clock

Bale started on the substitutes' bench but came on with 28 minutes left on the clock

The Welshman set up team-mate Borja Mayoral during the Copa del Rey encounter

The Welshman set up team-mate Borja Mayoral during the Copa del Rey encounter

He has been the scapegoat, and the sick-note for long enough. There is now a sense that he might be the saviour.

'Bale means Madrid avoid disaster' was the front page of Marca and there was no surprise that like rival sports paper AS they went with the same front page picture on Wednesday morning – the moment Bale kept his team in the Spansih Cup with a swing of his left foot.

He had only been on for a minute. His first touch was to a control a ball out on the right and he then delivered one of the passes of the season with the outside of his left foot to Borja Mayoral whose header levelled on the night and put some distance between Madrid and Fuenlabrada due to the aggregate scoreline.

He made the second goal happen too with a shot that was parried and converted by Mayoral. Madrid won the tie because of him. A late second goal from the minnows would have knocked them out if not for his two contributions.

Zidane played down the importance of Bale's contribution but he knows the last Real Madrid manager to be knocked out of the Spanish Cup by a third tier side was Manuel Pellegrini and he was sacked at the end of the season.

Bale didn't just change the direction the tie was going in on Tuesday night, he changed the mood in the Bernabeu.?

The team had been whistled off at half-time and there were more disgruntled jeers in the second half when Fuenlabrada defender Cata Diaz headed on to the bar. Bale turned the crowd. They applauded his warm-up, they applauded him on to the field, and they cheered the goal he made to bring Madrid back on terms on the night.

'We were anxious for him to come on,' said Mayoral in a radio interview of Bale's impact. There then followed several questions about whether he had any sort of relationship with Bale on the training ground.?

Spanish newspaper Marca praised Bale after his comeback appearance on Tuesday
AS followed suit by praising the Welshman

Spanish newspapers Marca and AS praised Bale after his comeback appearance on Tuesday

Bale has been out injured with muscle injuries since the end of September?

Bale has been out injured with muscle injuries since the end of September?

Real Madrid need Bale to be on top form if they are to close the eight-point gap on Barcelona

Real Madrid need Bale to be on top form if they are to close the eight-point gap on Barcelona

'You must hardly see him,' was the gist of one of the questions referencing the injury set-backs. Mayoral side-stepped the line of enquiry but it showed there is a still a desire among parts of the Madrid media to paint Bale as the outsider who only mixes with the physios because of his fitness problems.

Those critics will be ready for the next time he fails to deliver but Tuesday night's cameo promised they might have to wait a while for that next fall. He will need to be used intelligently by Zidane.?

But he has become so important in terms of turning around a grey season that the Madrid coach will want to listen to his player and ensure that he gets the time he needs to be right for the big games ahead and not a minute more or less.

If Bale is physically right in December then it could see him leading Madrid to another World Club Cup success in Dubai and then winning the Christmas Clasico to claw back three points on runaway leaders Barcelona – if he can do that then Madrid's season changes completely, and so does the outlook for Bale's future.?

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